Eve Ensler’s episodic play The Vagina Monologues held its last performance on Saturday, February 11th, 2017. Running from February 9th-11th, the show was part of the Saint John Theatre Company’s Canadian Stages Series. The Monologues have been produced for the BMO Studio Theatre’s stage this month by Carolyn Radcliffe and Melissa Godbout as a project to provoke a discussion about female sexuality and raise money for women’s charities.
Consisting of a number of monologues delivered by women on a variety of subjects, the Monologues are constantly changing, being added to, or swapped out as time passes.
In support of V-Day, an activist movement working towards ending violence against women and girls across the globe, all proceeds from The Vagina Monologues are being donated to women’s charities, with 90% of the proceeds going to Hestia House in Saint John. As of Saturday night’s final performance, The Vagina Monologues has raised almost six-thousand dollars for charity.
The event page for The Vagina Monologues explains that they are, at their core, “a celebration of female sexuality in all its complexity and mystery shared through real women’s stories of intimacy, vulnerability and sexual self-discovery.”
Each monologue deals with some aspect of female sexuality, delving into what it means to be female, to want, to have insecurities, and most of all: what it means to have a vagina in a world where having a penis gives you power.
Norah Emerson, a UNB Saint John student attending Saturday night’s performance, describes The Vagina Monologues as extremely diverse: “they strike a nice balance between positive, funny content and more serious content, and include sketches that cover a good array of perspectives.”
Saturday night’s performance of The Vagina Monologues consisted of nineteen monologues, covering a wide range of subjects.
With a cast of about sixteen women, some performed multiple monologues and others preformed together. Poignant, powerful, and funny, the monologues encompassed a wide range of emotions.
For example, Sarah Rankin’s monologues, “My Angry Vagina” and “Reclaiming Cunt” were delivered with all the humor and intensity that comes with railing against the problems women face every day when talking about or approaching their vaginas.
Similarly, “The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy,” performed by Kelli Wray, consisted of more theatrics than most people are capable of producing.
“‘The Woman Who Loved to Make Vaginas Happy’ pretty much breaks down any kind of restraint anybody in the room has left,” Emerson agrees following the performance.
However, the Monologues were also tempered with jarring realities. Factual accounts of the genital mutilation, rape, and sexual assault of women and girls around the world are delivered to the audience alongside the humor of the night. Monologues such as “My Vagina Was My Village,” read by Chelsea Johnson, were profoundly heart-wrenching and acutely emotional, bringing into sharp relief the realities many women face today.
In the production, all of the women remain sitting on chairs or stools on the stage for the entirety of the evening, alternately standing up and moving to the center of the stage to deliver their monologues. This evokes an atmosphere of support and solidarity.
Each woman also dressed similarly, with elements of black or red in each outfit. Again, this drew the cast together into one cohesive unit, even though they may not directly interact on stage.
Emerson says the BMO Studio Theatre’s natural atmosphere takes things a step further: “I love being in a smaller space because it feels so much more collective—when the cast is close enough that they can hear the audience talking back to them (and laugh with them) it feels less like a performance and more like a group of friends sharing with each other.”
UNB Saint John English professor Sandra Bell, who was able to attend the first performance on Thursday evening, also comments on the space.
“The performances are made even more powerful by the intimate space at the BMO Studio, with actors just feet away,” Bell says. “It’s an evening of theatre that is intensely private, and powerfully political. I am really pleased to see the audience respond with such enthusiasm.”
The women work as a cohesive unit, only rarely missing lines or cues, allowing the performance to flow smoothly from one monologue to the next.
A well-attended performance with an audience of both women and men, Saturday night’s show was a strong finale to an important series dedicated to removing the stigma around vaginas and female sexuality. Following a long line of performances over many years and in over a hundred countries, this adaptation of The Vagina Monologues certainly does them justice. The intensity, the laughter, and the emotion encapsulated within nineteen stories of happiness, trauma, and perseverance is deeply felt and profoundly moving.
Sandra Bell also feels that the performance is immensely important for women in the community.
“[The] Vagina Monologues have created a safe space for women to share their stories. Some stories resonate for people of different ages; some are funny, some sad, some horrifying; and all speak to the diversity of women’s experiences.”